Chicago area course inspired by golf's greatest holes

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

Pine Valley Golf CourseBENSENVILLE, Ill. -- Playing Pine Valley, considered America's top-ranked golf course, can be an incredible experience. Oh, you've never had the opportunity? Well then, you've at least played the venerable Oakmont Country Club, right? Never been there either, huh? Winged Foot? Nope. Bel-Air Country Club? Never. Shinnecock Hills? Sorry I asked.

All of these courses, and many others, I'm sure are on our secret lists of the courses we'd would love to experience. But in reality, these private clubs are nearly impossible to get on. A chance to play Pine Valley, for instance, is just unheard of for your average ball retriever carrying, "muni" playing, public golfer. But there is a chance to play a little piece of these legendary layouts in one place -- The Legends of Bensenville in Chicago's west suburbs.

Replica golf courses always present a healthy debate in the grillroom. Should famous holes be duplicated or is it like copying a masterpiece from Rembrandt or Van Gogh? Aren't replica holes a form of plagiarism? Plus, some simply believe if you can't have the real thing, why even bother. Playing a replica course can feel like kissing your sister.

But one must consider the appeal here. It is fantasy and, in a way, accessibility, that makes replica golf interesting and popular. The golfer can replicate the experience of playing a golf hole he may never have the connections or the cash to actually play.

The Legends of Bensenville gives him the chance to say he got as close as he could to the real thing.

Legendary golf

If you have a keen interest in golf architecture, then you know how special it is to play a golf hole created by one of the masters of design. And if you're not an architectural scholar, The Legends of Bensenville could turn you into one or at least give you a new appreciation for the craft.

Oakmont Country Club Each of the nine holes is a tribute to one of the most famous holes in American golf. Architect Tim Nugent, was given the task of selecting the holes he thought he could most accurately and authentically duplicate given the space he had -- 55 acres of reclaimed land that had once been a construction landfill site. This led to eight par-3s and one par-4.

Tim knows a little bit about turning a trash heap into a magnificent golf course. He created one of Chicago's best and most beautiful golf courses - Harborside International. It too was once a landfill. Nugent literally transformed the land, not only environmentally but architecturally and he did the same in Bensenville. But this time he had to become a real student of each individual hole -- each individual masterpiece.

Here's how the holes at The Legends of Bensenville fall out and the inspirations from which they come:

Hole No. 1 - Pine Valley No. 10, 136 yards, architect George Crump;
Hole No. 2 - Pebble Beach No. 7, 124 yards, architect Jack Neville;
Hole No. 3 - Oakmont Country Club No. 6, 169 yards, architect Henry C. Fownes;
Hole No. 4 - Riviera Country Club No. 10, 310 yards, architect George Thomas;
Hole No. 5 - Winged Foot No. 10 West, 168 yards, architect A.W. Tillinghast;
Hole No. 6 - National Golf Links No. 6, 114 yards, architect C.B. MacDonald;
Hole No. 7 - Bel-Air Country Club No. 10, 172 yards, architect George Thomas;
Hole No. 8 - Shinnecock Hills No. 7, 189 yards, architect Willie Dunn;
Hole No. 9 - Pebble Beach No. 17, 165 yards, architect Jack Neville.

Duplication as flattery

Copying golf designs is not new. The most frequently copied hole in golf history is The Redan at North Berwick, Scotland. This hole, especially the green complex, has been duplicated over and over again all around the world. And in 1911 when Charles Blair MacDonald opened the National Golf Links of America on Long Island he intentionally modeled some of the holes after his favorites in the British Isles. So duplication is not new.

However, recently the replica business is far less subtle. The Tour 18 in Dallas is marketed completely as a replica golf course with no excuses. Royal Links in Las Vegas, the Donald Ross Memorial Course in Michigan, and Golden Ocala Country Club in Florida are just some of the other courses that believe duplicating or modeling magnificent golf holes is not only appealing but can be a great draw.

The Legends of Bensenville was built certainly to draw golfers to its uniqueness, but those behind it also appeared to be very sensitive to critics who would call them copycats. Marketing was not the only motivation; Legends was also meant to be a tribute to the beauty, challenge and the inspiration of historic golf design.

Where to eat

Slice of Italy
11 West Main Street
Bensenville, Ill.
(630) 741-6246

Smokeys Restaurant
30 East Green Street
Bensenville, Ill. 60106
(630) 766-4087

Where to stay

Best Western - Chicago West
1600 Oakton Street
Elk Grove Village, Ill.
(847) 981-0010

Country Inn & Suites By Carlson
777 East Grand Avenue
Bensenville, Ill.
(Next door to The Legends)
(630) 250-1000

Where else to play

Fox Run Golf Links
Elk Grove Village, Ill.
18 holes
(847) 228-3544

White Pines Golf Course
Bensenville, Ill.
36 holes
(630) 766-0304

Fast Fact

The most authentic of holes, even without the ocean, is the Legend's ninth modeled after the 17th at Pebble Beach. It features the familiar hourglass green and giant shoeprint style bunker.

Directions

Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway west. Take US-20 and merge north onto the York Road exit. Follow York to Grand Avenue and go east. Legends is just a few miles from Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • closed

    v wrote on: Jun 17, 2010

    Legends of Bensenville golf course closed in 2008.

    Reply